Back to School: Reform movement takes aim at post-bnai mitzvah dropouts

Get ready for the “B’nai Mitzvah Revolution.”

It’s an initiative that emerged from the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, which was launched at the URJ biennial last December. During the campaign, URJ professionals, lay leaders and others visited congregations and communities to gather information about what congregations need to better engage youth. The new initiative is a result of those meetings, as is the revamping of a 2013 conference geared toward practitioners who work with Reform Jewish youths.

A project of the URJ and Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, the “revolution” aims to empower synagogues to improve the quality of Jewish education in their communities, reduce the high rates of post-b’nai mitzvah dropout, and add depth and meaning to Jewish learning. In 2013, the URJ will work with a small number of congregations to explore this issue.

This pilot cohort will learn together and share resources and ideas as it experiments with new approaches to b’nai mitzvah observance and preparation, and develops more effective models for learning Hebrew, kavannah (intentionality) in prayer, and other curricular areas. Isa Aron, professor of Jewish education at HUC-JIR, and Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, director of youth engagement at URJ, will serve as co-directors.

“The b’nai mitzvah revolution will be about systemic change,” said Solmsen. “We want to make the rite more meaningful and more community-oriented, without diminishing the child’s personal sense of accomplishment.”

The URJ’s Youth Engagement Conference will focus on transforming congregational youth programs, and is slated to be held Feb. 15-19 in Los Angeles.